How does President Palin sound?

For first time in modern history, a presidential race is actually going to be decided by the vice presidential pick.

Thanks to Sarah Palin, this is no longer a contest between Barack Obama and John McCain – it’s between Brother Barack and Sistah Sarah.

Rock star vs. rock star. Inexperienced vs. inexperienced. Newcomer vs. newcomer. Change vs. change. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Willie Brown isn’t profound, but depth isn’t what’s called for here. Instead of being cry-babies who complain about McCain’s lack of integrity, and instead of hysterically endlessly pointing out Palin’s lack of experience (as though we all just got religion and decided that the candidate’s level of experience is the thing), Democrats need to focus on McCain by focusing on Palin. What’s that mean?

Sarah Palin is de facto the top of the Republican ticket. It’s a contest between Palin and Obama. Obama doesn’t need to pull Palin down; he needs to hold her up to the point where McCain has to reclaim his own candidacy.

Indeed, if Obama wants to shake things up some more, he could try this for a game changer:

In acknowledging that McCain’s choice of running mate has so radically shaken up the race, let’s have two additional debates: McCain against Biden and Palin against Obama.

Believe me, that would take guts on Obama’s part because I honestly don’t know how he’d fair.

But the main point is to get voters to earnestly focus on the real choice at hand:

Do we want to see President Obama in the Oval Office or President Palin?

The Sixty-Day War

At 37, with a 225-pound frame, a Kojak-bald head, wraparound shades, and a Bluetooth headset invariably jacked into his ear, [Steve] Schmidt cuts an imposing figure. His affect, which alternates between steely, monotonal stoicism and fierce combativeness, is cultivated, designed to be intimidating. His cardinal professional virtues are relentlessness, focus, and a capacity for nearly infinite repetition. The GOP consultant Alex Castellanos says Schmidt is more purely pragmatic than Rove, less ideological, and hence even more lethal—“the perfect political killing machine.” His former boss accordingly nicknamed him The Bullet. His current one ritually refers to him as Sergeant Schmidt.

The bond between Schmidt and McCain was formed a year ago, in the wake of the near immolation of the McCain campaign in a bonfire of chaos, indiscipline, and mismanagement. Schmidt and his family lived in California, where he’d helped engineer Arnold Schwarzenegger’s landslide reelection in 2006. Even as McCain’s campaign faltered, he stuck loyally by his side. “He earned his stripes in the foxhole,” recalls McCain’s former media adviser Mark McKinnon. “He talked to McCain when no one was returning his phone calls.”

But it wasn’t until June that Schmidt assumed near-total control over McCain-land, after confronting the candidate over what he perceived as an incipient crisis similar to the one in 2007. The lack of focus. The internecine strife. The sloppy, listing message. Schmidt informed McCain bluntly that if he didn’t make significant changes in his operation, he was going to lose. [continued…]

The Palin-whatshisname ticket

Karl Rove for once gave the Democrats a real tip rather than a bum steer when he wrote last week that if Obama wants to win, “he needs to remember he’s running against John McCain for president,” not Palin for vice president. Obama should keep stepping up the blitz on McCain’s flip-flops, confusion, ignorance and blurriness on major issues (from education to an exit date from Iraq), rather than her gaffes and résumé. If he focuses voters on the 2008 McCain, the Palin question will take care of itself.

Obama’s one break last week was the McCain camp’s indication that it’s likely to minimize its candidate’s solo appearances by joining him at the hip with Palin. There’s a political price to be paid for this blatant admission that he needs her to draw crowds. McCain’s conspicuous subservience to his younger running mate’s hard-right ideology and his dependence on her electioneering energy raise the question of who has the power in this relationship and who is in charge. A strong and independent woman or the older ward who would be bobbing in a golf cart without her? The more voters see that McCain will be the figurehead for a Palin presidency, the more they are likely to demand stepped-up vetting of the rigidly scripted heir apparent. [continued…]

With White House push, U.S. arms sales jump

The Bush administration is pushing through a broad array of foreign weapons deals as it seeks to rearm Iraq and Afghanistan, contain North Korea and Iran, and solidify ties with onetime Russian allies.

From tanks, helicopters and fighter jets to missiles, remotely piloted aircraft and even warships, the Department of Defense has agreed so far this fiscal year to sell or transfer more than $32 billion in weapons and other military equipment to foreign governments, compared with $12 billion in 2005.

The trend, which started in 2006, is most pronounced in the Middle East, but it reaches into northern Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and even Canada, through dozens of deals that senior Bush administration officials say they are confident will both tighten military alliances and combat terrorism.

“This is not about being gunrunners,” said Bruce S. Lemkin, the Air Force deputy under secretary who is helping to coordinate many of the biggest sales. “This is about building a more secure world.”

The surging American arms sales reflect the foreign policy tides, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the broader campaign against international terrorism, that have dominated the Bush administration. Deliveries on orders now being placed will continue for several years, perhaps as one of President Bush’s most lasting legacies. [continued…]

Shadow of Guantanamo follows freed inmates back to their homes

They call them the Bandi Guantánamo, the Guantánamo returnees, and their welcome home is far from warm. All across Afghanistan in recent months, scores of men have been coming back from a long journey halfway around the world. About 100 have been released from Guantánamo Bay by United States authorities in the last 12 months as Washington, under mounting pressure from governments around the world, attempts to moderate the damage done to America’s image by the Cuba-based detention centre. A third are Afghan and more are due to return in the coming weeks.

After more than five years in detention thousands of miles away, often traumatised, often angry, or just broken and poor, the Bandi Guantánamo try to build new lives, with limited success. Most claim innocence. Others are unashamed of their acts of violence. Interviewed in Kabul last month, Mohammed Umr described how he had trained in terrorist techniques, met Osama bin Laden and fought at the battle of Tora Bora in 2001. Released 10 weeks ago, he spoke of how angry the presence of his former jailers in his homeland made him. ‘If they have come here to help us, why do they kill civilians and why can’t they even provide electricity to Kabul seven years after invading?’, asked the 30-year-old former footballer, arrested in Pakistan during the closing days of the war of 2001. [continued…]

Iraq: Violence is down – but not because of America’s ‘surge’

The perception in the US that the tide has turned in Iraq is in part because of a change in the attitude of the foreign, largely American, media. The war in Iraq has now been going on for five years, longer than the First World War, and the world is bored with it. US television networks maintain expensive bureaux in Baghdad, but little of what they produce gets on the air. When it does, viewers turn off. US newspaper bureaux are being cut in size. The result of all this is that the American voter hears less of violence in Iraq and can suppose that America’s military adventure there is finally coming good.

An important reason for this optimism is the fall in the number of American soldiers killed. (The 30,000 US soldiers wounded in Iraq are seldom mentioned.) This has happened because the war that was being waged against the American occupation by the Sunni community, the 20 per cent of Iraqis who were in control under Saddam Hussein, has largely ended. It did so because the Sunni were being defeated, not so much by the US army as by the Shia government and the Shia militias.

Sunni insurgent leaders who were nationalists or Baathists realised that they had too many enemies. Not only was al-Qa’ida trying to take over from traditional tribal leaders, it was also killing Sunni who took minor jobs with the government. The Awakening, or al-Sahwa, movement of Sunni fighters was first formed in Anbar province at the end of 2006, but it was allied to the US, not the Iraqi government. This is why, despite pressure from General Petraeus, the government is so determined not to give the 99,000 al-Sahwa members significant jobs in the security forces when it takes control of – and supposedly begins to pay – these Sunni militiamen from 1 October. The Shia government may be prepared to accommodate the Sunni, but not at the cost of diluting Shia dominance.

If McCain wins the presidential election in November, his lack of understanding of what is happening in Iraq could ignite a fresh conflict. In so far as the surge has achieved military success, it is because it implicitly recognises America’s political defeat in Iraq. Whatever the reason for President George Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein in 2003, it was not to place the Shia Islamic parties in power and increase the influence of Iran in the country; yet that is exactly what has happened. [continued…]

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